3:00 AM. Polanco, Mexico City.
I am trying to sleep in my room. But I can’t. Not because of the problems weighing down on any entrepreneur. There is a deafening sound from street work.
At 3 freaking AM. In what is possibly the poshest district in all of Mexico.
I waited for someone to go out and say something. Anything. But no-one said or did anything.
You know they say Mexicans are a violent people. So unfair. If this had happened in Turkey, somebody would beat the shit out of the workers or at worst shot them dead in a night-rage (and would probably get away with it).
Yet in Mexico, no one said anything.
Why? Why wouldn’t a single soul say or do anything? I didn’t because I didn’t want to be the ‘gringo’ complaining about something that all Mexicans agree is ‘acceptable. But there are hundreds of families within my neighbourhood with kids, people who have to go to work etc.
I realised this is closely linked to something I observed when I first started living in CDMX.
The Mexican Yes
The answer to every question in Mexico is a ‘yes’. Sometimes, that yes is a ‘yes' - albeit very rarely. Other times it is a ‘no’. But majority of the time, the ‘yes’ is simply ‘no answer’. It is the default answer.
Of course, Mexicans know this. But foreigners usually learn about it the hard way after being ghosted a number of times.
As a Turk, I am no stranger to unfulfilled promises. We excel on making promises we don’t intent to keep, cancel last minute and ghost people indiscriminately. More, I lived in the Arab world for five years. My ears developed an ‘inshallah’ filter which literally translates to ‘if God wills it’ but really means ‘I am invoking the name of Allah to say I can’t be bothered to do what you are asking for’.
But the Mexican yes is really in a class of its own
If you ask a Turk or Arab, are you hungry, they will not say ‘inshallah’. They will say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In Mexico, the answer is ‘yes’. It doesn’t matter if the person ate two minutes ago.
The interesting part is what happens when you then say ‘ok, let’s go for lunch’.
Some Mexicans would actually come eat even if they are full. Others would make up elaborated lies about why they can't. Which one depends largely on the actors involved. If you are in a senior role, they will come eat with you. If they see you as your peer, they will go for the lies.
If you want to be lonely and friendless in Mexico, confront them about it. It is the single most offensive, undesired trait in a human being. Actually, if I were to make this into a longer article, I would suggest ‘being confrontational’ is secretly admired but rarely practiced. But for now, let it suffice to say that it will leave you friendless.
Why get stuck on the Mexican yes?
Because my 3 AM problem is very much related to the Mexican yes. No one complained because everyone is non-confrontational. Everyone passed it to the next guy in line; ‘no es mi trabajo’ or ‘no es mi problema’.
Mexican society is non-confrontational to an extreme. In order to be successful in Mexico as a foreigner, for the very least, one has to learn to navigate the indirect communication. One has to learn to get to the ‘real yes’.
No comes before Yes
What I found in my little time here is that to get to the ‘real yes’, one has to get to the ‘no’ first.
People have to trust you enough to be comfortable saying ‘no’ before they can say a ‘real’ yes.
So, the question is how do you build trust?
Luckily for us, we are a marketplace that has been operating in an environment of distrust for the past five years. Women, in particular, in Turkey shy away from joining the labor force because there are a lot of job portals that are filled with guys looking for ‘secretaries’ (read mistresses). My co-founder’s determination in solving this problem has helped us become the platform of trust.
We learned to build trust the hard way. But that learning comes in handy in Mexico.
“Learn About Building Trust from Our Trust Masterclass”
Sorry but there is no shortcut to trust, no masterclass you can take to learn it. It takes grits, an unwavering dedication towards your mission and an aptitude for fairness.
Fancy words but what action should they translate into for them to work?
At Bonded, the one thing we get right almost every time is hiring. We hire people who care…care about the ideals we stand for. People who care for our mission of building trust.
They, in turn, call hundreds of candidates that join our platform daily and ask ‘how can we help?’.
They screen the system for the best jobs and even talk to companies for them to put in a good word. They give tips about the interviews and message them after the interviews to ask them how it went.
During the pandemic, we called up thousands of candidates, just to literally say ‘hi, hang in there, this shall pass’.
We build trust by showing our users that we care, not by sending a generic 'Happy birthday, first_name' message but by sending flowers on their first day on the job with a hand-written note.
That’s the grit.
Most will say ‘yeah, but that’s not scalable’. This is where ‘dedication towards your mission’ comes in.
Without such dedication, one ‘but that’s not scalable’ comment will slip through your defences and get you questioning ‘what the hell am I doing wasting my life while all those fintechs are killing it?’.
Me and my co-founder went through that many, many times but ended up realising we care more about our mission of building trust than being ‘scalable’.
Scalability is a function of the depth of an understanding of the problem you are solving. Without such close proximity to the users you are helping, there is no understanding. If you don’t understand the problem, you will propose solutions that don’t work.
But when you build the trust in your brand, your app, your website, you can use that trust to make processes more automatised and hence more scalable.
Finally, on your way to trust one must build or have an aptitude for fairness.
When there is a dispute between a candidate and company, we immediately act, mostly take the candidate side even though we make money from the company. Companies may and have thrown money at our faces to do as they please but to build trust one must not only do what is fair but avoid what is not. The latter most often is forgotten.
In the end…Long way to say this;
1. Mexican yes is possibly the most Mexican thing other than corn tortillas.
2. To be successful in Mexico, you have to get to the ‘no’ before the ‘yes’.
3. To get to the real yes, you need to build trust.
That’s our mission.